I'm in Heaven

By Judd, Alan | The Spectator, March 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

I'm in Heaven


Judd, Alan, The Spectator


If self-restraint is a virtue, then heaven may be possible after all. I've written only twice about Bristols, in The Spectator of 13 January 1996 and again in an article about the Palawan Press, publisher of rare and expensive books about rare and expensive cars (Motoring, 24 October 1998). Now there is an excuse to do it again since the two subjects are united in a singular and beautiful Palawan publication by that prince of motoring writers, L.J.K. Setright.

Bristols, as everybody knows, were born in 1947, the offspring of aircraft parents. Now one of the handful of wholly Britishowned car-makers, they never advertise and their one showroom is in west London. Some of their cars are so head-turningly beautiful that each time one appears its route is littered by distracted automaniacs who have walked into lampposts or under buses. Others have an understated elegance that renders them invisible to the mob and perceptible only to the discerning. All are idiosyncratic and oblivious to fashion.

The first cost 2,724 in 1947 and a new one now will set you back about 120,000. They owe their survival not only to their engineering and design integrity but to the disciplined passion of their proprietor, Mr Tony Crook, a distinguished former racing driver who has doggedly resisted both production compromise and take-overs. Now, their financial future should be secure thanks to a recent investor with the technical interest and enthusiasm for the marque that should ensure continuity.

This is therefore a good time for Palawan to bring out their celebratory book on the breed. A Private Car: an Account of the Bristol comes as a two-volume, sleeved set, one - The Word - containing Setright's inimitable 120,000 word text and the other The Image -- displaying 280 inspiring pages of photographs by Michael Baile, Julian Calder and Richard Newton, as well as archive material from the White family who founded the firm. There are two editions: the standard, of 900 copies bound in buckram and costing 300; and the special, of 100 numbered copies bound in quinel nubuck, with a numbered aluminum plaque on the front and encased in a presentation box containing a photograph of the Bristol of your choice mounted on aluminum, costing 600. (Bristols, of course, are aluminum bodied.)

Every time I see a Bristol advertised I resort to both volumes and either virtuously decide against this week's possible purchase or salivate over it until someone else buys it and temptation is taken from me. Were photographs to fade from being looked at, I would have some explaining to do when eventually returning this precious loan to Palawan.

It is the text, however, that most intrigues and entrances. Setright is as idiosyncratic, as original, as obstinately traditional, as radically conservative and as technically astute as his subject. …

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